Credit Reports and Affordable Bankruptcy Options FAQs

Credit Reports and Affordable Bankruptcy Options FAQs

By Ginger B. Kelly, Esq., April 3, 2019

I often get questions from my clients regarding how long a bankruptcy and debt will remain on their credit reports, after declaring or filing bankruptcy.  Here are a few of those frequently asked questions (FAQs) regarding credit reporting and how to pay for a lawyer to help with filing bankruptcy:

My bankruptcy was discharged about 10 years ago. What do I have to do to have it removed from my credit report?

~James, from Dudley

Dear James,

Since your bankruptcy and other accounts included within your bankruptcy will be deleted automatically, you don’t have to do anything to have them removed.

Although the date your discharge was recorded is the date your bankruptcy plan was completed, this date has nothing to do with when the information will be deleted. It is very possible that the information about your bankruptcy has been already deleted from your credit report.

How Long Does Bankruptcy Stay on the Credit Report?

~Dave, from Charlton

Dear Dave,

The date your bankruptcy will be deleted from your credit report is not set in stone.  Credit Bureaus will delete this public information anywhere from 7 to 10 years from the date you filed your bankruptcy.  The reason why this is not set in stone is because this depends upon the type of bankruptcy, or Chapter, you filed under.

A Chapter 13 bankruptcy is deleted 7 years from the date of filing because you are paying your creditors with a payment plan.  A Chapter 7 bankruptcy is deleted within 10 years from the date of filing because most, if not all, of your creditors will go without any payment.

When will accounts included in my bankruptcy be deleted from my credit report?

~Chrystal, from Southbridge

Dear Chrystal,

In both Chapters 7 and 13, individual accounts can remain on your credit report for seven years.  Typically, a person who files for bankruptcy is having serious difficulty payment all their debts.  Past due debts go into delinquency status. Delinquent debts, included in the bankruptcy will be deleted 7 years from the original delinquency date.  The original delinquency date is the date the account was late, which is typically 30 days past the due date.

Just because you declared bankruptcy, your original delinquency date is not altered.  This means that the time the account remains on your credit report is not extended, simply because you declared bankruptcy.

I need to file Chapter 7, but I don’t have any money to pay the legal fees, what can I do?

~Jen, from Webster

Dear Jen,

I totally understand your situation.  It seems crazy to have to pay a lawyer to file for bankruptcy when you can’t even pay your bills.  Isn’t that the reason why you need to file in the first place?

First and probably foremost, if you are really really poor and meet certain income guidelines, you may qualify for a reduced fee or legal aid.  I will point you in the right direction with this. I also offer reduced fees for certain individuals in dire situations.

Another suggestion is to apply your income tax refund to pay for your bankruptcy, rather than your back bills and old debt.  But be sure to contact your trusted bankruptcy attorney, first, before you decided to not pay debt or overdue bills.

Lastly, I can’t tell you how many people get help from family and friends the second they explain they are doing something helpful, like bankruptcy, to get a fresh start.

Other than these suggestions, we can discuss other options for payment at our first consultation.  If you can pay a little along into a payment plan until you have all of your fees paid, this may work for you.  Ask me how I can help you tailor a program that fits your needs and we can discuss any sensible option.  At our first consultation we will sit in my very quiet and completely confidential office and sip coffee if you like, and talk about all of your options and questions.

Thanks for your questions, James, Dave, Chrystal and Jen.  I’m always happy to help.

If you have legal questions, especially if you are contemplating bankruptcy or dealing with collections or debt collection law suits, Attorney Ginger Kelly is now accepting clients in the Dudley, Webster, Sturbridge, Fiskdale, Southbridge, Saundersdale, Oxford, North Oxford, Charlton, Charlton Depot, Auburn, Leicester, Rochdale, Spencer, Brookfield, East Brookfield, West Brookfield, North Brookfield, Warren, Brimfield, Wales, Palmer and Holland.  We can explore whether or not bankruptcy is the easy way out for you.  Our office is a quiet and comfortable place to talk, and a free pot of coffee will be waiting for you when you arrive.

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ABOUT ME: Attorney Kelly is an attorney in good standing, licensed to practice in both the Federal District and State Courts of Massachusetts and Rhode Island. Her law practice is focused on consumer debt, finance, bankruptcy and District Court matters. Attorney Kelly is experienced in both criminal and civil trial work. On a personal note, Attorney Kelly enjoys writing and other things, like conservation and agriculture. To find out more, visit our website, or call us at (508) 784-1444.

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NOTICE: This is an Advertisement. This post is not legal advice. Consult your attorney. Attorney Kelly does NOT provide legal advice to anyone via social media or anywhere over the Internet. Any and all electronic posts and writings, by Attorney Kelly, does NOT establish any type of attorney-client relationship, whatsoever, neither perceived, actual, material, implied or other. We cannot stress enough, if you need personal legal advice, always see your attorney. Do not rely upon Attorney Kelly’s posts, writings or any Internet information on websites or social media for your own personal legal advice. Seek legal advice and representation from your own personal attorney.

Copyright © 2019 by Ginger B. Kelly, Esq., all rights reserved

Utility Shut-off Solutions

Attorney Ginger B. Kelly

Good advice from Attorney Ginger Kelly, licensed since 2004

Utility Shut-Off Solutions

by Ginger B. Kelly, Esq., January 11, 2019

I’ts that time of year, again.  The time when utility costs sky-rocket into the netherworld of bills you wish you could pay, but can’t.  But wait, don’t be too hard on yourself.  There are a few solutions to help you navigate this rocky road of uncontrollable utility bills.

Mass.gov has multiple solutions for certain people.  For example, if you live in Massachusetts, and if all the people residing in your home are age 65 and over, your electricity or gas cannot be shut off without permission from the Department of Public Utilities (DPU).  If you are experiencing financial hardship and one of the following applies, your electric or gas cannot be shut off without permission from the DPU:

  • You, or someone in your home, is seriously ill;
  • You have an infant under 12 months in your home;
  • All adults in the home are age 65 or older and a minor child resides in the home;
  • It is between November 15 and March 15 and the utility service is needed to heat your home.

If you meet these requirements and your electric or gas has been shut off, you should call your utility company directly. They will ask for proof of your situation, such as a child’s birth certificate, doctor’s note for a serious illness, or income-based proof of your inability to pay. 

If, after speaking with your utility company, your electric or gas service is not restored, you should contact the Department of Public Utilities at (617) 737-2836 or 1-877-886-5066 (toll-free) or complete their online complaint form.

If your water is provided by the city or town where you live, you need to contact the city or town directly to have your service restored. The Department of Public Utilities has a list of all the water district areas in Massachusetts.

If your water is provided by a company, your water cannot be shut off if one of the following applies:

  • Everyone in your household is age 65 or over;
  • You, or someone in your home, is seriously ill;
  • You have an infant under 12 months in your home;
  • All adults in your home are age 65 or older and a minor child resides in your home;
  • You are a tenant whose landlord is responsible for the water bill.

If, after speaking with your utility company, your water is not restored, you should contact the Department of Public Utilities at (617) 737-2836 or 1-877-886-5066 (toll-free) or complete their online complaint form.

Oil, Propane and Wood (Un-Regulated Utilities)

There are no specific legal protections for utility customers who heat with oil, propane, or wood. However, providers of these utilities are often willing to work with consumers who find themselves in difficult situations. You should contact your service provider directly and if you cannot get your utility restored, you should file a complaint with CARD.

How can I get help making my payments?

You may seek help from your local fuel assistance office if you are having trouble paying your utility bills. You do not have to be unemployed to get help. In addition, utility companies are often willing to work out discount, budget, and payment plans. You can learn about your fuel assistance options here.

How can I find out about my other options?

If you are facing a utility shut-off, including your electricity, gas, water, or telephone due to unpaid bills, filing Chapter 7 bankruptcy may help keep your service connected. Under federal law, if you file for bankruptcy, the utility company cannot change, refuse, or disconnect your service.  Contact an experienced bankruptcy attorney to find out your options.

If you are poor and meet certain income guidelines, you may qualify for legal aid.  Another suggestion is not to use your income tax return refund check to pay for your back bills, but use it to pay for your bankruptcy and be free from most all of your crushing debt and back utility bills.

At our office, there are a number of ways to pay for your bankruptcy, including using your federal and/or state income tax return refunds.

If you have other legal questions, especially if you are contemplating bankruptcy or dealing with collections or debt collection law suits, Attorney Ginger Kelly is now accepting clients in the Dudley, Webster, Sturbridge, Fiskdale, Southbridge, Saundersdale, Oxford, North Oxford, Charlton, Charlton Depot, Auburn, Leicester, Rochdale, Spencer, Brookfield, East Brookfield, West Brookfield, North Brookfield, Warren, Brimfield, Wales, Palmer and Holland.  We can explore whether or not bankruptcy is the easy way out for you.  Our office is a quiet and comfortable place to talk, and a free pot of coffee will be waiting for you when you arrive.

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ABOUT ME: Attorney Kelly is an attorney in good standing, licensed to practice in both the Federal District and State Courts of Massachusetts and Rhode Island. Her law practice is focused on consumer debt, finance, bankruptcy and District Court matters. Attorney Kelly is experienced in both criminal and civil trial work. On a personal note, Attorney Kelly enjoys writing and other things, like conservation and agriculture. To find out more, visit our website, or call us at (508) 784-1444.

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NOTICE: This is an Advertisement. This post is not legal advice. Consult your attorney. Attorney Kelly does NOT provide legal advice to anyone via social media or anywhere over the Internet. Any and all electronic posts and writings, by Attorney Kelly, does NOT establish any type of attorney-client relationship, whatsoever, neither perceived, actual, material, implied or other. We cannot stress enough, if you need personal legal advice, always see your attorney. Do not rely upon Attorney Kelly’s posts, writings or any Internet information on websites or social media for your own personal legal advice. Seek legal advice and representation from your own personal attorney.

Copyright © 2018 by Ginger B. Kelly, Esq., all rights reserved

Clearing Financial Clutter, Minimalist Style

Bridid Kayaking Maine 2015

Clearing Financial Clutter, Minimalist Style

By Attorney Ginger B. Kelly, June 6, 2018

Living the minimalist lifestyle has been an ongoing passion of mine for at least the past five years. Working on becoming less cluttered, less driven by my own urges and material wants, is something I strive to do every day.  In turn, this leaves more time to become more creative, mindful and wise. This is a process, not a destination.

Minimalism is also a movement. It’s a personal organization life-design and a simpler way of life.  Living the simple less cluttered life, financially, tends to make your wallet and your heart more full and happy.  A person only needs a few things to find comfort and safety.  Likewise, a person only needs a very few tools to keep their financial life under control and comfortable.  Many credit cards and savings accounts will not bring more mental calmness and financial security.  In fact, a cluttered financial life will limit your options and your productivity.

USE ONE SIMPLE PLAN TO PAY YOURSELF FIRST

First and foremost, pay yourself.  Use one long term savings account, if possible.  The strategy is to save at least 10% for your long term retirement goals.  The minimalist strategy is to have only one 401(k) or one IRA and invest in this.  If you want to get fancy, have two accounts. For example, have one annuity and one 401(k) or have two 401(k) accounts, one for each spouse. If you are older, it is not uncommon to have more than one long term savings plan.  However, a multiplicity of whole life policies, stocks, savings bonds, mutual funds and 401(k) accounts will not help to drive your financial goals forward.  In fact, many accounts drive most folks crazy.  Avoid multiple fees, multiple financial institutions, more than one financial adviser and tons of “stuff” to look after. Then, save it and forget about it. Have the money taken out of your pay check, each and every pay period, and you’ll never miss it.  Out of sight, out of mind.  This really works!

Tip:  If you can’t save 10%, start with a minimum like 4%.  Increase this figure every year until you reach the goal of 10%.  Ask your tax accountant and financial adviser to help you plan a strategy that is realistic and works best for you.

HAVE ONE CHECKING ACCOUNT AND ONE SAVINGS ACCOUNT

Two or more bank accounts do not help clear the mind nor do they add value to your life. Two checking and savings accounts require extra passwords, extra time, extra books, extra statements, extra checks and other not so valuable things, like bank fees and charges. Get rid of all checking and savings accounts but one, unless you own a business. If you own a business have two, one for your business and one for your personal finances.

Also consider having only one savings account and using it. A savings account is an important tool, useful for short term goals, like car repairs and/or down payments, kid’s activities like summer camp, gifts and summer vacations. A good rule of thumb is to save 5% to 10% of your gross income each month for short term goals. That means, if you earn $2,000 per month, you should be stashing away at least $100 to $200 per month into short term savings.

Joint Account Tip: Sometimes it’s a good idea to have designated “jobs” when working together with joint accounts.  Find a simple plan and strategy for you, as a couple, and follow that.  Be honest with each other and communicate about everything important. If you can’t work together, seek counseling, a trusted priest, pastor or neutral party to help you correct underlying breakdowns, fears and anxieties.

Savings Tip:  Saving the equivalent of at least one car payment each month just for transportation is a great rule to follow, whether or not you actually have a car payment. If you aren’t saving anywhere from $100 to $400 per month, simply for transportation, then a $50 bus or mass transit pass may be the better option. For most folks, driving to work is far more important than an expensive mobile phone plan or eating out over and over again.

LIMIT CREDIT CARDS TO ONLY THREE

Get rid of all credit cards and revolving credit accounts but three. Why three? Most people remember and retain information very well in increments of three. Any more than three points, topics or tasks and the waters get muddy.  As a bankruptcy attorney I’ve seen a lot of things.  Having tons of credit cards seems to be a thing these days.  The point here is to not get hung up on the numbers of cards you have, but to shed unnecessary high interest cards and revolving accounts that charge unwanted fees. Caring for balances and payment dates is easy, when there are only three. No is a very empowering word.  Set a goal and use the word no to your advantage. When it comes to credit cards, less is best.

Tip: Don’t close credit card accounts in the days, weeks or months before making big purchases, like a home or a vehicle.  Closing credit card accounts can actually lower your credit scores for a time. Keep this in mind. After you’ve made that big purchase, then you can begin to close small revolving accounts you don’t need and ones with annual fees and things that do not add value to your financial well-being and peace of mind.

Another tip: Coordinate your credit card payments with your pay period.  This makes paying your cards, on time, every time, easier. Then, every pay period, when checking on your bank balance and direct deposit, pay your credit card bills (all at the same time). Having multiple due dates on many credit cards is nothing less than stressful and confusing. Ask your lender how to do this.

As we can see, there are a few financial “things” almost everyone needs to get by in life and plan a successful future. Too many and life gets complicated. Jen, Ray and Mary are great examples of this.

Jen and Ray are a couple who decided to take the minimalist approach and de-clutter their finances.  They gave themselves clear goals to de-clutter their finances, with broken-down steps on how they wanted to attain them.  Most importantly, they wrote down why they wanted to live more minimally and posted their goals on a calendar.  Over the course of just one year, they reduced their credit cards from ten to four. They eliminated six checking accounts to two. They also started a joint savings account and began to save money into Ray’s 401(k). They have saved over $300 in typical,  albeit unintentional, yearly overdraft fees and bank charges. Even better, Jen and Ray communicate much better and have far less stress and anxiety.

Mary, in taking her first steps toward getting rid of clutter, wrote down the fact that she didn’t need hundreds or useless items and financial tools to be happy, unique and to feel secure.  Part of Mary’s plan was to get rid credit cards and spend less.  She eliminated her JC Penny, WallMart and TJMaxx cards and decided to keep her cash-back Discover card and a lower interest Citi Bank card with no annual fee.  Mary also decided to have only one checking and one savings. Then, she started to save 10% of her income for a newer car purchase over the next year.  In less than eight months, Mary has saved over $100 in extra bank fees and interest charges and tucked away over $1,000 in her savings account. Mary doesn’t go out to eat very often anymore, but that’s OK.  She likes to cook.  For Mary, creating nice things, like meals, helps her to be a better person, all around.

You’ve heard it before, “everything you do and have in life (material things, relationships etc.) either adds value to your life or drags you down.” (author unknown) There is no third option. Things that add value to your life are things that make you happy, lead you to become more creative, healthier, wiser, and more energetic, develop your talents and so on. The same holds true for your finances.

Please feel free to comment, below.  We are open to your tips and ideas for getting rid of financial clutter and eliminating stress.

The Law Offices of Ginger B. Kelly is now accepting appointments to see clients in the Sturbridge, Southbridge, Dudley, Webster, Oxford, Sutton, Charlton, Auburn, Worcester, Framingham, Shrewsbury, Spencer, Brookfield, West Brookfield, Warren, Putnam, all of the Worcester County, parts of Hampden County and Northern Rhode Island.  We can explore whether or not bankruptcy is the easy way out in a comfortable, private place to talk.  We will have a fresh pot of coffee waiting for you.

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ABOUT ME: Attorney Kelly is an attorney in good standing, licensed to practice in both the Federal District and State Courts of Massachusetts and Rhode Island. Her law practice is focused on consumer debt, finance, bankruptcy and District Court matters. Attorney Kelly is experienced in both criminal and civil trial work. On a personal note, Attorney Kelly enjoys writing, gardening, conservation and agriculture.

To find out more, visit, http://www.attorneykelly.com or call us at (508) 784-1444.

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NOTICE: This is an Advertisement. This post is not legal advice. Consult your attorney. Attorney Kelly does NOT provide legal advice to anyone via social media or anywhere over the Internet. Any and all electronic posts and writings, by Attorney Kelly, does NOT establish any type of attorney-client relationship, whatsoever, neither perceived, actual, material, implied or other. We cannot stress enough, if you need personal legal advice, always see your attorney. Do not rely upon Attorney Kelly’s posts, writings or any Internet information on websites or social media for your own personal legal advice. Seek legal advice and representation from your own personal attorney.

Copyright © 2018 by Ginger B. Kelly, Esq., all rights reserved.

Lien Removal via bankruptcy

dudley-district-court-sign-2-07242015

Lien Removal via Bankruptcy

By Ginger B. Kelly, Esq. May 23, 2018

Judgment liens on residential real estate or automobile titles can become a big problem for owners who want to sell or refinance. A lien is a type of instrument that secures a debt, similar to the way a mortgage secures a loan or note or a lien on a title can secure an automobile loan. Liens can be created for a number of reasons, like  to pay a judgment on a credit card debt, unpaid taxes, mechanic’s liens for unpaid services or water or sewer charges or any judgment in a lawsuit to pay a debt of any kind, even unpaid car loans or leases.

In Massachusetts, a lien from a judgment in a lawsuit is called an execution. The execution secures the amount that was awarded to the plaintiff and enforces the judgment awarded.  For example, credit card companies like Discover, Synchrony, Citi Bank or Bank of America, debt buyers like Midland Funding, and auto loan companies, like Wells Fargo and Ford Motor Credit, commonly record executions after receiving a judgment. Some companies even record liens before a judgment, if there is reason to believe the property will be sold or encumbered in any way.

There are only a few ways that a defendant may remove an execution, in Massachusetts. One way is if the debtor pays the creditor/plaintiff the amount owed on the execution. Then the creditor may ask the court to release the execution or lien. The other way is to pay the creditor a lesser amount owed, also known as a “settlement.” If the creditor agrees to a lesser amount, the creditor or the debtor can ask the court to remove the execution after the debt is satisfied by payment. Another option is if the judgment secured by the lien is vacated (i.e. thrown out). Without the underlying judgment, the execution can be released.  The only problem with this is that even if the execution is released, the debt won’t necessarily go away. The creditor might be able to re-file the lawsuit. A third option is to have the lien avoided in a bankruptcy.

When a homeowner files for bankruptcy in Massachusetts, he or she can claim a homestead exemption that protects between $125,000 and $500,000 in equity in their personal residence. The Bankruptcy Code allows filers to remove liens, also known as “avoiding” liens, like executions that impair this exemption. Once avoided, the lien can be cleared from the title by recording or registering orders from the bankruptcy court at the registry of deeds.

At the Law Offices of Ginger B. Kelly, we often obtain orders to clear liens from many of our client’s real estate, automobile titles and other personal property.  By obtaining and recording or registering orders from the bankruptcy court, we help many of our clients refinance or sell their homes and other property without problems stemming from a lien. If you have a lien that poses a problem for your property, talk to us (free of charge) and we will evaluate your options.

The Law Offices of Ginger B. Kelly is now accepting clients in the Sturbridge, Southbridge, Dudley, Webster, Oxford, Charlton, Auburn, Spencer, Brookfield, Warren and all of the Worcester County Area. We can explore whether or not bankruptcy is the easy way out or not.  We have a comfortable place to talk and a fresh cup coffee waiting for you.

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ABOUT ME: Attorney Kelly is an attorney in good standing, licensed to practice in both the Federal District and State Courts of Massachusetts and Rhode Island. Her law practice is focused on consumer debt, finance, bankruptcy and District Court matters. Attorney Kelly is experienced in both criminal and civil trial work. On a personal note, Attorney Kelly enjoys writing and other things, like conservation and agriculture.

To find out more, visit, http://www.attorneykelly.com or call us at (508) 784-1444.

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NOTICE: This is an Advertisement. This post is not legal advice. Consult your attorney. Attorney Kelly does NOT provide legal advice to anyone via social media or anywhere over the Internet. Any and all electronic posts and writings, by Attorney Kelly, does NOT establish any type of attorney-client relationship, whatsoever, neither perceived, actual, material, implied or other. We cannot stress enough, if you need personal legal advice, always see your attorney. Do not rely upon Attorney Kelly’s posts, writings or any Internet information on websites or social media for your own personal legal advice. Seek legal advice and representation from your own personal attorney.

Copyright © 2018 by Ginger B. Kelly, Esq., all rights reserved.

Documents Needed Prior to the 341 Trustee Meeting (aka Meeting of the Creditors)

documents-required

Just the other day I was driving to my own client’s 341 Trustee meeting in Worcester, Massachusetts and I thought, most people have no clue what documents are needed prior to most trustee meetings.  So, here is the short list.

The documents you will need are generally the same whether you are filing a Chapter 7 or Chapter 13 bankruptcy.  However, specific documentation requirements are something different in most every local jurisdiction.  Be sure to check your local rules or contact your attorney in your specific situation.  Your attorney can notify the trustee and find out what is needed.

Tax Returns

Minimally, and most importantly, your last year’s tax return is required to be delivered to the trustee minimally seven days prior to your 341 meeting.  Local rules and trustees vary on what is required prior to the meeting.  If you do not provide this to the trustee, prior to your meeting, your case could be dismissed.

Other than this, you will typically need to provide copies of your tax returns or tax transcripts for the last two years during your meeting.  I have found, over the years, that it is best if you sign your returns.  If you have tax returns that haven’t been filed, you will need to explain why you were not required to file.  If you did not have a valid reason for not filing, most trustees, especially in Chapter 13 cases, will require you to file your taxes and provide copies before concluding or approving your case.  Again, some trustees may require more tax returns while others may ask only for your most recent one.

Income

If you are an employee, you will need copies of pay stubs (also known as payment advances) for the six-month period prior to the bankruptcy.  You will also need your past two years W-2 forms.  If you collect Social Security or Social Security Disability Income, you will need your award letter.  If you are self-employed, you will probably need to provide a profit and loss statement for the same six-month period as well as business bank statements to verify the amounts on the statement. If you have income from other sources such as rental properties or unemployment, proof of this income is also required.

Real Estate

If you own real estate, a valuation of the property is required.  Generally, I recommend my client’s get a broker’s price opinion, or a full appraisal, but this depends upon the situation.  In some cases, this is not needed.  Mortgage statements showing current loan balances, deeds of trust, and proof of home insurance may also be required.

Vehicles

If you have titled vehicles, such as an automobile, you will be required to provide a recent copy of your vehicle registration.  I also recommend you have proof of insurance, and valuation information, such as a KBB (Kelly Blue Book) valuation (you can get this online). If you have a car loan, a recent loan statement showing how much you owe and what your monthly payment is, will be important.  For other titled property, such as boats or trucks, recent valuation may also be required.

Retirement Accounts and Other Bank Accounts

Recent bank account statements (checking and savings) and retirement account statements are usually very important to provide to the trustee.  Your attorney should have these.

Miscellaneous

If you have any other special circumstances, like child support or alimony, you will need to provide proof of these expenses.  Typically a copy of the judgment, order or agreement will be sufficient

Proof of Identification and Social Security Number   

This is very important.  When you go to your hearing with the trustee, you will be asked to show proof of identification.  So you must have these two things ready for the trustee at the beginning of your meeting.  Identification must be valid and include a recent photo.  Examples are a current state-issued ID card, a current driver’s license or valid passport.  You will also need to show proof of your social security number.  These documents are typically your state-issued social security card or employee-issued W-2 form.

That’s it. Now you are ready for your Meeting with the Trustee. If you have any questions or need any help, please give me a call. My direct line is 508-784-1014 (yes, this is the number that goes directly to me, personally).  I’ll be happy to set up your first free consultation, absolutely free.

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The Law Office of Ginger B. Kelly is now accepting new clients.  Call and schedule your first appointment.  We are a small law office offering your first confidential consultation, absolutely free of charge.

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ABOUT ME:  Attorney Kelly is an attorney in good standing, licensed to practice in both the Federal District and State Courts of Massachusetts and Rhode Island. Her law practice is focused on consumer debt, finance, bankruptcy and District Court matters. Attorney Kelly is experienced in both criminal and civil trial work. On a personal note, Attorney Kelly enjoys writing and other things, like conservation and agriculture.

To find out more, visit, www.attorneykelly.com, visit us at Ginger B. Kelly on Facebook or feel free to call us at (508) 784-1444.

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NOTICE:  Attorney Kelly does NOT provide legal advice to anyone via social media or anywhere over the Internet.  Any and all electronic posts and writings, by Attorney Kelly, does NOT establish any type of attorney-client relationship, whatsoever, neither perceived, actual, material, implied or other.  We cannot stress enough, if you need personal legal advice, always see your attorney.  Do not rely upon Attorney Kelly’s posts, writings or any Internet information on websites or social media for your own personal legal advice.  Seek legal advice and representation from your own personal attorney.

Copyright © 2015, 2016, 2017, by Ginger B. Kelly, Esq., all rights reserved.

4 Qualities That Make My Lawyer Great

 I don't always need a lawyer but when I do I make sure my lawyer is great

Most of us will need a lawyer, at least once in our lives. The lawyer we hire will be our confident. Our lawyer will keep our secrets. Our lawyer will know about our finances. Our lawyer will hear our complaints. They may see us cry. They will negotiate with our adversaries and listen to our desires and hopes.

Sometimes, our lawyer will be the bearer of bad news. They help us cope. They help us deal. They help us celebrate. Our lawyer will know who we are, where we live, and what we want out of life.  Hopefully, our lawyer will understand us. No…..I don’t mean just hear what we say, I mean really understand us on a deeper level.

Surprisingly, not many people do much research before hiring a lawyer.  Doing a quick Google-search or talking to your mother’s best friend’s cousin seems good enough for a lot of folks.  This lack of due diligence works out really nicely for lawyers with issues, like substance abuse, mental illnesses and poor work ethic, but it’s horrible for you.

Chances are that you and your lawyer will be in it for the long haul.  You will spend more time with your attorney then you ever dreamed possible.  So what do you really need to know about someone who you will trust with some of the most important matters of your life?  Here are a few tips.

  1.  Like a great friend, a great lawyer will be there when you need them the most.  

Have you ever had a good friend who didn’t return your phone calls or respond to your emails or text messages?  Lawyers are often like this too. Great lawyers return calls and communicate the status of your case, not sparingly, but all the time.  They send updates and talk about the future, the things that matter most.  So why don’t lawyers return calls?

Lawyers, like many people, have reasons and make excuses for not communicating. They may suffer from alcoholism or depression. Statistics indicate that lawyers suffer from alcoholism and depression at rates significantly higher than the general population. In fact, lawyers have the most alcoholics of any profession. Being too busy is another excuse for lack of communication. Then there is avoidance.

Why would a lawyer ever avoid telling a client the truth?  Exactly – when there’s bad news. Did they lose the case?  Did they miss a deadline? Are they overwhelmed? When the fantastic lawyer you hired is so swamped with work that they fail to call, they fall very short of being effective. Not only is this not professional, it’s not as uncommon as you think.

Great lawyers, who are genuinely concerned about you, don’t avoid calls.  Just like friends, outstanding lawyers stay close. Great lawyers, like great friends, do all that they can to be there and watch your back, especially when you need them.

  1.  A lawyer should always be honest and transparent, but a great lawyer knows how and when to be honest.  

Chances are, you will share some of the most exciting things in your life with your lawyer. There are lots of reasons why your lawyer will be the first one who hears your good news, along with the bad.  A good lawyer knows how to be honest and clear, without crushing your enthusiasm.  Not deflating joy, while dealing with reality, is an art. The fine art of listening, while uplifting others, is a topic touches me personally.

One day, a few years back, my adult daughter told me that she was going on a business trip to Cairo, Egypt.  At that time, Egypt was full of conflict and danger.  In Cairo, it was not unusual to see men walking casually down main streets with heavy artillery.  People wore AK-47’s like jewelry.  Needless to say, when my daughter told me she was going to Cairo, Egypt, I was not happy.

I expressed to my daughter, with no reservation, my deepest darkest fears.  “Egypt was a very dangerous place”, I said.  “I’m really afraid for your safety,” I said.

Unfortunately, I didn’t listen to my daughter carefully enough and wore my emotions on my sleeve. As you may have guessed, my daughter was not very happy. Her joy was crushed. Stonewalling me in no uncertain terms, she said, “Mom, I don’t want to talk about it!”  I was hurt.  It was quite some time before we talked to each other.

A few weeks later, we had another conversation. This time things were very different.  I asked her to explain to me why she was so mad.

She said, “Mom, I expected you to act differently.”  She explained to me that she was so excited about her wonderful overseas adventure, that she wanted me to share in her joy not deflate her spirits.  She explained to me that my lack of confidence in her, to make wise decisions, was upsetting.  Right then and there, I realized I needed to think about what was said and how I responded to my daughter.

To make a long story short, my daughter and I both apologized to each other and we both had a good talk about what had happened.  Now, I try to do my best to listen very carefully to others.  I try to think twice and talk once.  I work on keeping my emotions intact and understanding the situation, before I express my concerns.  My daughter also learned that it’s not always a good idea to expect people to act the way you want them to act.

Actually, I think we both learned how to listen and discuss things better with one another.  This is the point.  Almost all great relationship building begins with a learning curve of understanding.  This was one of those learning curve moments, for the both of us.  We both grew and became better, as a result of our misunderstanding.

Find an attorney who continues to improve upon their listening and communication skills.   Great lawyers aren’t always perfect, but they are honest and they try harder than most to communicate and listen to their clients when they are needed.

  1.  A lawyer should always be respectful and decent, but a great lawyer will respect your space and value your emotional energy.

Some clients struggle with the fact that a lot of lawyers take up too much of their emotional energy. Believe it or not, like friends, some lawyers can suck you down a vortex of critically bad emotional thoughts.

Some lawyers are jealous of other lawyers.  Some lawyers have a lot of negativity in their lives.  Some attorneys want to dominate your time with things or small talk.  They are unclear about appointments and fail to work hard on your case to the point that you feel they aren’t doing even simple investigations and research. All of these types of things can leave you feeling deflated and unsure of what to do next.

Then there are the lawyers who constantly bad mouth other lawyers.  This is not good. This could be a good indicator that your lawyer has a few insecurity or mental issues.  Be wary of this sort of thing.  It really doesn’t matter why, but when a lawyer never has enough time to discuss your case with you, don’t attach yourself to them.  Attaching your legal matter, and yourself, to a lawyer who is a mental, emotional and financial suck is like attaching yourself to a leach. Find a different lawyer, quickly.

An outstanding lawyer will respect your space and time.  They will be cognizant about your need to do other things, like pick up your kids from daycare, go to an important dinner-date with your partner or spouse or not be late for work.  It’s never a good idea to bind yourself to a lawyer who dominates your time and takes all your energy.  A good lawyer will respect your boundaries and give you good clear time-frames when something needs to be done and how it should happen.  A good lawyer does not expect you to do their work or read their mind.  This is also true of good friends.

  1.  A good lawyer communicates well, a great lawyer listens and will know how (and when) to take an attorney-client conversation to a deeper level.

Great, lawyers tend to be appropriately upbeat and care enough to discuss important things.  They enjoy listening to stories related to your case that seem meaningful and important to you.  Good lawyers give you freedom to talk, gather your thoughts, or simply take a moment or two of silence.

A good friend will give you an ear to listen or a helping hand when you really need one.  They don’t cut you off or incessantly talk about themselves.  True friendships have a reciprocity of give and take and know when and how to respect your space.  The same is true for lawyers.  A great lawyer will value the relationship enough to know when it is important and appropriate, to take a conversation to a deeper, more meaningful level. Sometimes this is important. Other times, it’s a necessity.

Of course not every situation is the same.  Not every conversation with your lawyer will become deep and meaningful. Lawyers are our trusted advocates. When the circumstances justify the need, like a good friend, an outstanding lawyer will be there to listen.

It is also important to know that we lawyers are a rare breed.  We share our lives with people who are uniquely positioned to see us at our best and at our worst, as lawyers and individuals.  This is another good reason why taking the time to get to know your lawyer is important.  If you’ve seen your lawyer at their worst, and you still trust them, you’ve probably found a great lawyer.

When I was young and I used to go to the grocery store with my mother.  When we were in the produce aisle I’d watch her by fruit.  She would select melons, for example, by looking at them carefully.  When she found a melon she was interested in, she would pick it up in her hands and hold it for a moment or two.  She would look the melon from top to bottom.  She would touch it, thump it, smell it and press down on its skin.  My mother would do all of this before selecting one simple melon.  Think about it.

Here, we are dealing with people. It may seem very difficult to deeply connect and create an important and lasting relationship with your lawyer, but it’s not. Connecting with your lawyer is no different than connecting with some of your closest friends. So why not apply these four basic principles of finding lasting relationships, to find a truly great lawyer?

“Great lawyers are like good friends, hard to find, harder to leave and impossible to forget.”  ~Attorney Kelly

by Ginger B. Kelly, Esq., June 17, 2015

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ABOUT ME:  Attorney Kelly is an attorney in good standing, licensed to practice in both the Federal District and State Courts of Massachusetts and Rhode Island. Her law practice is focused on consumer debt, finance, bankruptcy and District Court matters. Attorney Kelly is experienced in both criminal and civil trial work. On a personal note, Attorney Kelly enjoys writing and other things, like conservation and agriculture.

To find out more, visit, www.attorneykelly.squarespace.com or www.attorneykelly.wordpress.com, or call us at (508) 784-1444.

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NOTICE:  Attorney Kelly does NOT provide legal advice to anyone via social media or anywhere over the Internet.  Any and all electronic posts and writings, by Attorney Kelly, does NOT establish any type of attorney-client relationship, whatsoever, neither perceived, actual, material, implied or other.  We can not stress enough, if you need personal legal advice, always see your attorney.  Do not rely upon Attorney Kelly’s posts, writings or any Internet information on websites or social media for your own personal legal advice.  Seek legal advice and representation from your own personal attorney.

Copyright © 2015 by Ginger B. Kelly, Esq., all rights reserved.

Voir Dire: Culling the Masses in Mass

January 12, 2015

With the passage of the Massachusetts Session Laws: Chapter 254 of the Acts of 2014, beginning in February 2015, attorneys licensed in Massachusetts will, for the first time, be allowed to question prospective jurors in civil and criminal trials.  The questioning of prospective jurors to obtain a fair and impartial jury is called, voir dire.

Voir dire, in 17th Century French lingo, means “to speak the truth.”

Jury.jpg.CROP.article250-medium Illustration by Mark Alan Stamaty

Illustration by Mark Alan Stamaty

VOIR DIRE: A NOUN OR A VERB?

In law, voir dire is the act or process of asking questions of prospective jurors for jury selection reasons in civil and criminal trials.   The word “voir dire” may be used interchangeably either as a noun or a verb.  For example, an attorney may voir dire a potential jury member, by asking the person questions (an action verb).  Voir dire may also be conducted prior to trial.  In this context, voir dire is a noun because the word voir dire references the name of a particular pre-trial procedure, a thing.

NEW LAW ON VOIR DIRE IN MA

Chapter 254 of the Massachusetts Session Laws: Acts of 2014, pertains to voir dire in Massachusetts Superior Court, not the Massachusetts venue of federal court.  Federal courts sometimes do things differently than state courts.   Here’s how.

FEDERAL AND STATE VOIR DIRE 

Due to Federalism and the Constitution of the United States, both the US federal government and each US state government each have their own court system.  (Aside: Massachusetts has three federal courthouses, Boston, Worcester, and Springfield.)

Federal courts have jurisdiction over persons, places and legal subjects like appeals claims, bankruptcy petitions, constitutional claims, admiralty matters, issues involving different states, and trials involving the laws and treaties of the US, just to name a few.  State courts have jurisdiction over the persons and issues dealing with state law as well as legal matters that are not federal or international.  Notwithstanding jurisdiction, forum, and venue are also important, albeit often confusing legal terms.

FORUM, VENUE AND VOIR DIRE  

Forum and venue play a part in how voir dire is conducted currently in Massachusetts.  Forum selection pertains to which court a trial will occur in.  Venue selection has to do with the geographic location of the trial.  This is why we have a  state forum and a federal forum.  If a legal matter involves the jurisdiction of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, the court forum will be located in the venue of Massachusetts, where voir dire is not attorney conducted.

THE TSARNAEV TRIAL VOIR DIRE 

In the trial of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, the alleged Boston Marathon bomber, (United States v. Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, No. 13-cr-10200), the forum is the federal court system or US District Court.   The venue (location) is the District of Massachusetts.  Hence, the Tsarnaev case is underway in the federal court of Massachusetts, a/k/a the US District Court: District of Massachusetts.  In US District Court (the federal court forum), attorneys are permitted to question individual potential jury members.

Voir dire in the Tsarnaev trial will consist of several phases.  The first phase of voir dire involves potential jury members filling out a typed confidential, multi-page, multi-question,  juror questionnaire.  Attorneys have a week, or so, to go through each group’s questionnaires to confer and agree on which jurors should be excused routinely or dismissed, for cause,  for things like bias or hardship.  In this context, the word “cause” means, as a matter of legal routine or common practice.

On January 15th, the next phase of voir dire involves the Hon. George A. O’Toole, presiding trial judge.  Judge O’Toole will question possible jury members, individually.  After Judge O’Toole completes his investigation, the attorneys for both the defense and prosecution may begin their individual voir dire.  Voir dire in this phase will involve individual questions to potential jury members and 20 attorney challenges, or challenge questions.  The challenges will cull out any who may be disqualified routinely, as a matter of cause.

THE HERNANDEZ TRIAL VOIR DIRE

In the Aaron Hernandez trial, regarding the Odin Lloyd murder, (Commonwealth v Aaron Hernandez, No., 1314CR002057) voir dire will be conducted a little bit differently.  In the Hernandez trial, the forum is not federal court, but state court.  In Fall River Massachusetts, in the Superior Court of Bristol County, the Hernandez trial is now underway.  This state forum affects how voir dire is conducted for Hernandez.

As mentioned earlier, under current Massachusetts state law, legal limitations on vior dire are still in effect.  Attorney conducted individual voir dire is not permitted in state court.  The Hernandez’s attorneys filed a Motion (in December 2014) to ask the court for attorney conducted voir dire.  However, the Hon. Susan E. Garsh, Justice of the Superior Court, denied the motion.  Therefore, the Hernandez trial court is conducting voir dire, not the trial attorneys.   Like in the Tsarnaev trial, the Hernandez questionnaire process of voir dire is similar but the distinction lies in the following phase of voir dire.

For Hernandez, potential jury members will be questioned individually by Judge Garsh.  Defense attorneys and prosecutors will be present and may object and challenge.  However, attorneys will not be permitted to ask potential jury members individual questions.

Had the Hernandez trial started only two weeks later, in February rather than January, attorney conducted vior dire would have been legally available.  Funny how laws change, affecting procedural outcomes.

JUSTICE AND VOIR DIRE  

Whether or not voir dire is conducted by the court or by attorneys, voir dire is part and parcel of the US constitutional right to a fair trial.  Jury selection is critical to any trial.  No matter how strong the case or how proficient the defendant’s attorney or legal team may be, if the right jury is not selected a defendant stands a very slim chance of winning at trial.

Voir dire is an exercise of justice.  Voir dire is important and a very effective way of “culling the masses in Mass” and finding the best possible fair and impartial jury.

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ABOUT ME:  Attorney Kelly is an attorney in good standing, licensed to practice in both the Federal District and State Courts of Massachusetts and Rhode Island.  Her law practice is focused on consumer finance and bankruptcy.  However, Attorney Kelly is experienced in both criminal and civil trial work.  On a personal note, Attorney Kelly enjoys writing and other things, like conservation and agriculture.  To find out more visit, www.attorneykelly.squarespace.com or http://www.attorneykelly.wordpress.com, or call us at (508) 784-1444.

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NOTICE:  Attorney Kelly does NOT provide legal advice to anyone via social media or anywhere over the Internet.  Any and all electronic posts and writings, by Attorney Kelly, does NOT establish any type of attorney-client relationship, whatsoever, neither perceived, actual, material, implied or other.  We can not stress enough, if you need personal legal advice, always see your attorney.  Do not rely upon Attorney Kelly’s posts, writings or any Internet information on websites or social media for your own personal legal advice.  Seek legal advice and representation from your own personal attorney.

Copyright © 2015 by Ginger B. Kelly, Esq., all rights reserved.